“You could have fooled me,” but apparently autumn officially begins this weekend, so I thought it would be prudent to return to our analysis of Walt Disney World wait times and see if our expectations about summer crowds proved true or if we ended up being far off base. Spoiler: If I was wrong, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.
Our discussion began in earnest earlier this year, primarily in “When is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World Based On A Lot of Wait Times.” At this point in the year, our discussion takes over 500,000 individual wait times into account. Obviously, the posted wait times at the attractions are not always accurate, but we’re largely interested in exploring the trends we see from day to day, week to week, and month to month. With the website’s vast catalog of “data,” we can hopefully come to some conclusions about how crowd patterns have changed at Walt Disney World and Magic Kingdom in particular. Of course, don’t let that stop you from tweeting me about that one day you saw that one wait time at that one attraction at that one time in March. We both know you’re right and I’ll delete this article posthaste. The majority of our discussion will focus on the summer months and how crowds have shifted away from June, July, and August. We’ll also spend some time talking about whether or not there really is a “best” day of the week to visit Magic Kingdom. That discussion goes back to this post.
Here’s an updated version of our main chart, which shows the average overall wait across 17 Magic Kingdom attractions for each day from January 1st, 2017 in the upper left corner and then ending with September 18th, 2018 on the far right. The chart is also color-coded based on whether Disney is charging the Value (Green), Regular (Yellow), or Peak (Red) price for a 1-day ticket. The colors may help break up the monotony of the numbers and we’re also interested in whether or not Value days see lower waits than Regular or Peak days or if the lower pricing pushes people to visit on Value days, in turn pushing up wait times.
Across all days so far in 2018, the average daily wait at Magic Kingdom across our 17 attractions is 39 minutes. Here’s a look at how wait times are distributed on a day that’s just about average along with the attractions that are taken into consideration:
I picked 17 attractions that I thought would be representative of how a day at Magic Kingdom would be going. There are rides with variable capacities – Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain can operate with one or two sides loading, for example. Other rides, like Peter Pan’s Flight, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and Under the Sea ~ Voyage of the Little Mermaid are basically going to run at full capacity all day, every day as you’re not taking vehicles off the track. Other attractions, like Mad Tea Party or The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, are not the most popular attractions, but high wait times there are typically indicative that waits are much longer everywhere else. For example, the Adventureland spinner might not be appealing when Jungle Cruise is a walk-on, but might be looking like a more reasonable selection when the wait there is 75 minutes and Aladdin is commanding just ten.
Here’s a closeup of what we’ve seen so far in 2018:
The website has been discussing crowds shifting away from the summer and into the fall and winter for a couple of years now. That shift has perhaps never been more pronounced than this year, when August 2018’s wait times were lower, on average, than any other month. “Well sure Josh, the kids are going back to school!” you say. Yes, sure, but July’s 38.9 minute average is lower than January, February, March, April, and June as well.
Here’s the same data presented in a different way:
Five years ago, how many of us would have expected that your average day in July would see lower waits than your average day in January?
To what should be nobody’s surprise, September’s wait times remain the lowest of the year. Below is September so far with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party dates highlighted in spooky Orange:
And while it’s still too early to say with certainty considering the second half of September is typically busier than the first, but it looks like September will see an even bigger drop in wait times than the last couple of years. In 2017, the highest average wait was the 44.6 minutes we saw in December. September’s was the lowest at 28.1 minutes. That’s a 16.5 minute difference, or a 37% drop. So far in 2018, the 49.5 minute average we saw in March has been the highest so far. If September’s current 24.6 minute average is raised to 27 minutes by the end of the month, we’re looking at a 22.5 minute difference, which is 45.5% lower than the busiest. The above chart illustrates how much shorter waits are on Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party dates versus those with longer hours and Happily Ever After scheduled. Waits on non-Party dates are over 50% higher.
Here’s how October stacked up last year with an emphasis on the difference in wait times between Party and non-Party days:
While the 35.5 minute average wait in October is higher than September, the Party dates continue to see significantly lower wait times. Of course, the hours are either 8am-6pm or 9am-6pm on Party dates, but nine or ten hours in a Park with relatively short waits can be a fulfilling day. On Party dates that I have to leave around 6pm, I like to attach a drink at the California Grill bar, dinner at the Polynesian, and the Party fireworks from the beach, but the early evening can turn into a lot of fun in a lot of different ways. If you’re planning on visiting Magic Kingdom between now and when the Parties discontinue in late December, you’ll want to strongly consider Party days and be ready for much heavier crowds on the day you decide to see Happily Ever After.
We return briefly back to the summer with a look at average wait times from June through August in 2017. Note the number of red/Peak days:
Peak days comprise the entirety of June and 22 out of of 31 days in July for a total of 52 Peak days.
Now take a look at June through August in 2018:
There’s 42 fewer peak summer days in 2018 with only the ten days running up to the July 4th holiday coded red/Peak. So it certainly appears like Disney knew the summer was going to be weaker well in advance and priced the days accordingly.
Here’s a reminder of what the 2018 1-Day Ticket Calendar looks like:
Disney has a couple of ways of telling you how busy they expect a day to be. This is one of them.
I should note that while I continue to threaten big October crowds, in 2017, there were nine peak dates. This year, there’s four. So you’ve got that going for you.
If you’re wondering if waits are shorter on Value days compared to Regular or Peak days, then the answer is yes:
On Value days, the average wait so far in 2018 comes in at 35.3 minutes, which is about four minutes below the 39-minute average for the year. Regular days see a 38.7 minute average, which is right around average for the year. Peak days come in considerably higher at 45.8 minutes. Here is a very long chart with the individual wait times during each Season if you’d like to scroll a bit.
Here’s the same chart for 2017 when the distribution is similar:
Somewhat interestingly perhaps, the average Value Season wait in 2018 is four minutes longer than 2017, while the difference between Regular Seasons from year to year is less than a minute. The Average Peak Season wait in 2018 is also 3.2 minutes longer than 2017. Of course, the 2017 data takes into account the entire year, while we’ve got 3+ more months in 2018, including the busiest week of the year around Christmas.
Here’s an update on how wait times are looking at Magic Kingdom organized by day of the week for each month so far:
This post from June discusses what might be going on to increase and decrease waits throughout the week in much more depth.
Back when that post was written in June, this is how the chart stacked up:
Interestingly perhaps, Sundays saw the lowest waits of any day of the week. Perhaps more surprisingly, Mondays saw the second lowest waits of the week. Conventional wisdom is to avoid Mondays due to the belief that so many people arrive over the weekend and head to the Most Magical Place on Earth on their first full day. If that’s true, Disney is certainly ready for them. Furthermore, Wednesdays, most of which have evening Extra Magic Hours attached, typically see shorter waits than either Tuesdays or Thursdays, both days of the week which rarely see EMHs.
Here’s the chart, again organized by the day of the week, through September 18th:
With the lower summer waits, the average wait every day of the week has actually come down after adding June, July, August, and the first half of September. Sundays still see the lowest waits of the week, but Fridays have dropped with lower waits during Mickey’s Party dates – the majority of which have been scheduled on Fridays thus far. But even so, Monday still holds strong with an average wait lower than Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays.
In the last post, I mentioned that while Saturdays might typically see higher waits than other days, that a different pattern takes hold during the summer. In June, Saturdays saw the second lowest wait of any day of the week, though it was still three minutes longer than Sundays, on average. In July, Saturdays were again the second best day of the week to visit based on wait times, with a difference of less than 30 seconds compared to Sundays. Wednesdays, which had been the “best” day of the week to visit for years, saw the highest waits in July.
I guarantee you that whatever crowd calendar you still subscribe to is not taking this into account. If you were to subscribe to the Kenny the Pirate crowd calendar, he would have told you to go to Magic Kingdom on Thursday the 26th, which had the absolute highest wait time of that week. And we’re avoiding Saturday the 28th, despite the fact that it had the absolute lowest wait of the week and one that’s over 20% below average for the year.
I always get myself into trouble when I make fun of other sites, but I only do it in your best interest. Here’s Prep School Productions with a ten out of ten crowd level for every day in August, despite the fact that wait times this year are going to be the second lowest of the year. I guarantee you that she, sitting somewhere in Texas right now, has no idea that this is true. But here we are anyway.
Longtime readers are probably familiar with what was once a longtime feud with TouringPlans. I have posts such as “Thanksgiving Week Wait Times and a TouringPlans Takedown,” for example. I would warn you before you click that it’s a bloodbath. While I would still tell you that calling their crowd calendar junk science is offensive to science, they are the only people out there legitimately trying to figure out Walt Disney World crowd patterns. The methodology is still misguided, but at least there is methodology. Nobody else is doing anything. It’s pathetic.
Back to the 2018 chart as a whole, I think you’d have some amount of trouble convincing me that I should avoid a particular weekday because “waits will be longer.” Friday, with its 39-minute average, is the lowest of the week. But the highest is Wednesday with a wait less than two minutes longer, on average.
I’ve also calculated the average wait by week, from Saturday through the following Friday, for each week in 2017, and for as many weeks as we’ve made it through in 2018. Here’s that chart, with the difference between the two years in the last column:
To open the year, we saw eight straight weeks of higher waits in 2018 as compared to the same days in 2018. Fast forward to around now and eight of the last nine weeks saw lower waits in 2018 as compared to the same days in 2017. The main reason why we see such a jump from 2017 to 2018 for the week of 9/9 is because a major hurricane threatened Florida around this time last year. And even with no hurricane this year to keep the people away, it was still the week with the lowest crowds of the year so far.
We’re just about ready to close things out. If you’ve visited since January 1st of last year, you might be interested to see how your week(s) stacks up against the others. Here’s a sorted list with the least crowded week first:
The average wait for all weeks is 38.5 minutes, so if your week was 38 minutes or below, then you experienced below average waits during your visit. If it was 39 minutes or higher, then you’re looking at above average waits.
Overall, I think this is about what we were expecting to see from summer wait times, though August was even softer than I would have expected and June was busier. With South America rebounding slightly compared to the last couple of years, it makes some sense that June crowds were a little heavier. September is also shaping up to be a very good month – perhaps the best in years.
What does this mean moving forward? I’d expect the middle of October to see a substantial uptick in crowds and wait times, likely from the 6th through the 20th with a bit of a drop off the following week. The last week in October should be a great week to visit, as are the weeks before and after Thanksgiving. December crowds and wait times should be average to slightly above average through the 21st, when things really pick up. December 26th – 31st will be the busiest week of the year.
The website will continue to keep an eye on things as we progress through the end of the year. Good luck out there.